SINGAPORE: A High Court judge has thrown out a counterclaim by blogger Leong Sze Hian against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a defamation suit, allowing the libel suit to go to trial.
Justice Aedit Abdullah said in a written judgment issued on Tuesday (Mar 12) that Mr Leong’s counterclaim “discloses no recognised cause of action, let alone a reasonable one”.
Mr Leong’s lawyer Lim Tean had filed a counterclaim alleging that PM Lee’s original libel suit was an abuse of court.
Mr Lee had sued Mr Leong in November for defaming him by sharing on Facebook an article alleging that PM Lee had helped his former Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak launder money in relation to scandal-hit Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Justice Aedit Abdullah cited a previous decision by the Court of Appeal, where the court was emphatic “that the tort of abuse of process is not recognised in Singapore law”.
The court had ruled then that this was because “there are ample legal mechanisms within the existing rules of civil procedure that afford innocent parties adequate legal remedies in the event that there is indeed an abuse of process by the party concerned on the other side”.
“For this reason alone, it is clear that the appeal on this particular issue must fail simply because ... [the appellant’s] claim cannot even take off since the legal basis upon which it premises that claim does not exist,” the Court of Appeal had ruled.
Justice Aedit Abdullah said he did not see anything in the Court of Appeal’s judgment “which leaves room for the tort of abuse of process to be recognised as a possible control to counter the misuse of public functions or powers”.
Referring to PM Lee’s original defamation suit, the judge said the present case “involves triable issues” and that it is not conducive for the court to rule "on the question of meaning" at this stage.
He accepted that “the use of the offending words would be material” and said such context can only be ascertained at trial.
“The plaintiff has a substantial reputation as the Prime Minister of Singapore,” said the judge.
Justice Aedit Abdullah acknowledged the line of cases cited by PM Lee establishing that allegations of corruption and criminal conduct are “very grave charges” especially when made against the Prime Minister of a country, and an “attack on the very core of [his] political credo” and erode his “moral authority”.
He said he did not accept Mr Leong’s argument that subsequent Government statements debunking the Facebook post and article ensured that no damage was caused to the plaintiff’s reputation, as this “did not mean that the statements complained of lost their defamatory effect thereafter”.
The judge ruled for costs to be awarded to PM Lee for both Mr Leong’s application to strike out the defamation claim and PM Lee’s application to strike out Mr Leong’s counterclaim.